The summer of plastic straw bans might be over, but Hillsdale College students will still have to stop sucking.
Bon Appétit Management Company will stop offering plastic straws by September 2019.
The movement to rid both the environment and consumers’ beverages of plastic straws swept through the United States during the summer. Seattle banned plastic straws, restaurants across the nation followed suit, and now the strawless movement — sometimes referred to as #StopSucking — has come to Hillsdale.
“Taking steps to reduce single use plastics seemed like a pretty obvious decision,” Bon Appétit Marketing Coordinator William Persson said. “It’s not really sustainable to keep producing that much plastic, especially when most straws are not recyclable. So from a food service perspective, that’s a small step you can take towards more changes.”
Bon Appétit might substitute paper straws for plastic straws. But since paper straws come with a heftier price tag and a tendency to get soggy, Bon Appétit is considering other options, Persson said.
Popular alternatives include steel straws and compostable straws. Neither are perfect substitutes, as steel straws often go missing, while compostable straws require specific temperatures and compost bins to break down.
If Bon Appétit’s coffee supplier Zingerman’s Coffee cooperates, students could eventually see a strawless lid similar to those used by Starbucks, which are made of recyclable plastic, Persson said.
“It may seem a like a small step toward fighting the world’s plastic pollution problem, but we think it is an important symbolic one to get people thinking about what single-use plastic disposable items they really need,” Bonnie Powell, Bon Appétit’s director of communications, said in an email. “And since we’re doing it company-wide, that’s almost 17 million plastic straws that won’t end up in landfill or the oceans.”
The decision to banish plastic straws came on the heels of college campuses’ straws bans on the West Coast, said Persson.
Disability advocates have protested the bans on plastic straws, saying that alternatives fail to provide the flexibility and convenience of plastic straws, which can help those with impaired motor control.
Bon Appétit still has a stock of plastic straws to use up, so students will not immediately notice the change.
“Right now we are at this stance where we are not going to give them to you. They will be there, but it’s up to you to take them,” said Persson. “Come September of next year, we will not be offering plastic unless you have a disability and need to use a plastic straw.”
Other restaurants that removed plastic straws have dealt with confused or cross customers. A few A.J.’s workers quietly admitted to liking plastic straws, but so far there has been almost no student response.
“Usually everything we do is contentious, so I was surprised,” said Persson, referring to the backlash over the to-go cups.
The movement has attracted criticism from cynics. Those on the right have dismissed it as “virtue-signaling,” and those on the left have argued it doesn’t do enough to rid the environment of plastics.
“I think plastic straws are perhaps overhyped,” said Erin Flaherty, Conservation Club secretary. “People have just chosen plastic straws as a representative thing. But [when] people who don’t use straws but don’t keep in mind the other plastic they are using, it doesn’t make sense to me.”
But Flaherty said she still appreciates the change.
“Things like straws are consumed a lot by marine wildlife and that’s really harmful to the environment,” Flaherty said. “Reducing the amount of plastic we use here in Hillsdale and especially in the cafeteria is a really cool way that we as a school can impact and help preserve our planet.”